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  • WW2 Submarine "What ifs..."

    These are two "what ifs..." that have always intrigued me:

    1. What if the IJN had developed a submarine doctrine along similar lines to the German and (later) USN doctrines, concentrating on systematic attacks on US logistics/merchant shipping, perhaps even targeting the Canal Zone exit to the Pacific, rather than the uncoordinated, scatter-shot approach they appear to have followed? Their I-class subs were clearly well-designed and constructed, and they had the deadly Long-Lance torpedo. The entire US Pacific campaign was absolutely dependant on the Fleet Service Force. It seems such an obvious, self-evident course to follow. Was there a coherent, logical reason they did not, or simply that they were so totally in the grasp of the Mahanian "Decisive Battle" that they were incapable of seeing any alternatives? And if they had, how would it have played out? Would it have made a Japanese defeat any less inevitable? Of all the many blunders made by the IJN in WWII, this to me is the most puzzling and inexcusable. Was the IJN leadership that hidebound and narrow-minded?

    2. To me, this is the most intriguing "what if" of WWII. What if the USN had acted earlier to address the deplorable state of its aresenal of torpedoes? Defective design essentially left US sub commanders with empty holsters for the first year (plus) of the war. Given the ultimately devastating impact of US subs or Japanese merchant shipping and their entire economy, what would have happened if the USN had had effective, reliable torpedoes from the outset (or even had sub commanders' concerns been seriously addressed when they were initially raised)? Would it have shortened the war? Would it have negated the need to use atomic weapons by bringing about Japanese defeat prior to 1945? To me, the bureaucratic stonewalling surrounding US torpedoes was absolutely criminal, ultimately costing tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of uneccesary deaths. It remains a shameful chapter in Navy history that has been largely ignored by WWII historians. It certainly deserves much more attention than it's received so far.

    What do others think?
    12
    Yes, absolutely
    25.00%
    3
    Negligent yes, criminal no
    41.67%
    5
    No, just part of the normal bureaucratic turf-wars inevitable in wartime
    33.33%
    4
    What torpedo problem
    0.00%
    0

    The poll is expired.


  • #2
    I get the firm impression that in inter-war America, subs sinking merchant vessels was anathema. Sub leaders may have thought so but congressmen giving the navy funds to develop torpedoes to kill merchant men? In the Depression? Even today we don't talk much about the sub campaigns, we seem to have more pride in nuking Hiroshima. Merchant hunting is a very. very dirty concept to many Americans precisely because so much of our business is based on trade. If the Americans had better torpedoes in late 41, I think the Japs would have resisted until Typhoon and the bombs, but in the meantime, thousands, perhaps millions of Japanese people would have starved to death.

    Anyway, Japan was screwed from the moment the first bomb dropped on Pearl. Japan attacking us was like a midget picking a fight with Schwarzenegger in his prime. Lot violence, almost all one sided.
    How many Allied tanks it would take to destroy a Maus?
    275. Because that's how many shells there are in the Maus. Then it could probably crush some more until it ran out of gas. - Surfinbird

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by Cicero
      This is a terrible poll! It's not like the Germans were free of duds!
      Yes, but they sent two officers to a Concentration camp over their mess.
      What did we do?
      "Why is the Rum gone?"

      -Captain Jack

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by Exorcist View Post
        Yes, but they sent two officers to a Concentration camp over their mess.
        What did we do?
        AND they rapidly replaced their duds with reliable torpedos rather than blaming their boat captains and pretending there was no problem

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by Ajhall View Post
          These are two "what ifs..." that have always intrigued me:

          1. What if the IJN had developed a submarine doctrine along similar lines to the German and (later) USN doctrines, concentrating on systematic attacks on US logistics/merchant shipping, perhaps even targeting the Canal Zone exit to the Pacific, rather than the uncoordinated, scatter-shot approach they appear to have followed? Their I-class subs were clearly well-designed and constructed, and they had the deadly Long-Lance torpedo. The entire US Pacific campaign was absolutely dependant on the Fleet Service Force. It seems such an obvious, self-evident course to follow. Was there a coherent, logical reason they did not, or simply that they were so totally in the grasp of the Mahanian "Decisive Battle" that they were incapable of seeing any alternatives? And if they had, how would it have played out? Would it have made a Japanese defeat any less inevitable? Of all the many blunders made by the IJN in WWII, this to me is the most puzzling and inexcusable. Was the IJN leadership that hidebound and narrow-minded?

          2. To me, this is the most intriguing "what if" of WWII. What if the USN had acted earlier to address the deplorable state of its aresenal of torpedoes? Defective design essentially left US sub commanders with empty holsters for the first year (plus) of the war. Given the ultimately devastating impact of US subs or Japanese merchant shipping and their entire economy, what would have happened if the USN had had effective, reliable torpedoes from the outset (or even had sub commanders' concerns been seriously addressed when they were initially raised)? Would it have shortened the war? Would it have negated the need to use atomic weapons by bringing about Japanese defeat prior to 1945? To me, the bureaucratic stonewalling surrounding US torpedoes was absolutely criminal, ultimately costing tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of uneccesary deaths. It remains a shameful chapter in Navy history that has been largely ignored by WWII historians. It certainly deserves much more attention than it's received so far.

          What do others think?
          On one hand, you have to remember that the US Navy held no live fire torpedo launches throughout the 1930's right up to the outbreak of war. If you want to hold someone responsible for the bad torpedoes, you should point a finger at a penny pinching US Congress that would not forward the needed funds to the Navy.

          The IJN doctrine was the same as the pre-war US' submarine doctrine, in that submarines were supposed to solely scout for the fleet and whittle down their numbers if and when the opportunity presented itself. They were locked into that mode of tactical thought. Had the IJN adopted unrestricted submarine warfare tactics and copied their German Cousins, it would only have hastened their own submarine fleet's demise, in that their shipyards could not hope to keep up with their submarine losses. Such tactics might have slowed down the US march across the Pacific, but IMHO, only by a matter of months.
          "Profanity is but a linguistic crutch for illiterate motherbleepers"

          Comment


          • #6
            To be accurate, the vast bulk of Japanese submarines were not armed with the Type 93 Torpedo, known as the "Long Lance", but with an electric torpedo designated the Type 92. It was a successful design, but nothing like the type 93.

            Had the Japanese adopted unrestricted submarine warfare they would have been breaking the 1936 London Naval Treaty to which they were a signatory. Mind you, this was just about the only clause they decided to follow. It is worth noting that Admiral Doenitz of the Kreigsmarine was charged with crimes for inciting unrestricted submarine warfare during his trial at Nuremburg. However, there was no judgement on this charge because the allies had done the same thing in the Pacific, Baltic and the Med.

            Japanese unrestricted submarine warfare would have made the Pacific campain even longer and bloodier, but in the end they would have lost for the same reasons the Germans lost in the Atlantic.

            I don't believe the USN's torpedo fiasco was criminal, just the result of bean counting from a period of extended peace and 'careerism'. An example of the beaurocratic malaise they had created for themselves is shown by the supply situation of the doomed US Asiatic Fleet. When war started in 1941 it was discovered by these ships that there were no alternate supply plans made in the event of war, no agreements on how to get supplies from allies, or private sources, or even how US supplies might be provided at places other than US bases.
            Amateurs study tactics, Professionals study logistics.

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by Roadkiller View Post
              To be accurate, the vast bulk of Japanese submarines were not armed with the Type 93 Torpedo, known as the "Long Lance", but with an electric torpedo designated the Type 92. It was a successful design, but nothing like the type 93.

              Had the Japanese adopted unrestricted submarine warfare they would have been breaking the 1936 London Naval Treaty to which they were a signatory. Mind you, this was just about the only clause they decided to follow. It is worth noting that Admiral Doenitz of the Kreigsmarine was charged with crimes for inciting unrestricted submarine warfare during his trial at Nuremburg. However, there was no judgement on this charge because the allies had done the same thing in the Pacific, Baltic and the Med.

              Japanese unrestricted submarine warfare would have made the Pacific campain even longer and bloodier, but in the end they would have lost for the same reasons the Germans lost in the Atlantic.

              I don't believe the USN's torpedo fiasco was criminal, just the result of bean counting from a period of extended peace and 'careerism'. An example of the beaurocratic malaise they had created for themselves is shown by the supply situation of the doomed US Asiatic Fleet. When war started in 1941 it was discovered by these ships that there were no alternate supply plans made in the event of war, no agreements on how to get supplies from allies, or private sources, or even how US supplies might be provided at places other than US bases.
              Indeed. During the early days of the war, the Heavy Cruiser USS Houston, in her role as flagship of the Asiatic Fleet, discovered after some Japanese air attacks, that it's 5-inch anti-aircraft ammunition consisted largely of dud rounds. At the same time, the US Cruiser Boise was damaged by running onto an uncharted shoal in the Philippine Islands and needed to return to the US for repairs. Before leaving, the Boise exchanged her 5-inch AA ammunition with the Houston and as a result, its anti-aircraft suite was greatly improved.

              Just another example of US peacetime beaureaucratic malaise.
              "Profanity is but a linguistic crutch for illiterate motherbleepers"

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by Ajhall View Post
                These are two "what ifs..." that have always intrigued me:

                1. What if the IJN had developed a submarine doctrine along similar lines to the German and (later) USN doctrines, concentrating on systematic attacks on US logistics/merchant shipping, perhaps even targeting the Canal Zone exit to the Pacific, rather than the uncoordinated, scatter-shot approach they appear to have followed? Their I-class subs were clearly well-designed and constructed, and they had the deadly Long-Lance torpedo. The entire US Pacific campaign was absolutely dependant on the Fleet Service Force. It seems such an obvious, self-evident course to follow. Was there a coherent, logical reason they did not, or simply that they were so totally in the grasp of the Mahanian "Decisive Battle" that they were incapable of seeing any alternatives? And if they had, how would it have played out? Would it have made a Japanese defeat any less inevitable? Of all the many blunders made by the IJN in WWII, this to me is the most puzzling and inexcusable. Was the IJN leadership that hidebound and narrow-minded?

                2. To me, this is the most intriguing "what if" of WWII. What if the USN had acted earlier to address the deplorable state of its aresenal of torpedoes? Defective design essentially left US sub commanders with empty holsters for the first year (plus) of the war. Given the ultimately devastating impact of US subs or Japanese merchant shipping and their entire economy, what would have happened if the USN had had effective, reliable torpedoes from the outset (or even had sub commanders' concerns been seriously addressed when they were initially raised)? Would it have shortened the war? Would it have negated the need to use atomic weapons by bringing about Japanese defeat prior to 1945? To me, the bureaucratic stonewalling surrounding US torpedoes was absolutely criminal, ultimately costing tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of uneccesary deaths. It remains a shameful chapter in Navy history that has been largely ignored by WWII historians. It certainly deserves much more attention than it's received so far.

                What do others think?
                If the IJN had an offensive attitude for their SS it could have changed the path of the war . Given they had the Long Lance torpedo and SS with endurance capability they might have been able to intercept allied shipping.

                As to the USN's problem in re the torpedos that seemed to fail a lot in the first few months of the Pacific war . The real problem was the magnetic exploder and the Torpedo station in Rhode Island (?)(I may be wrong here) had staff as well as naval HQ Washingtons staff that said we don't make mistakes. If they hadn't corrected this the US SS offensive would have been dismal . Fortunately their were COs who disregarded do not tamper orders . Was this bungling criminal ? I don't think that fits I do think it was stupid , short sighted and foolish .

                "To all who serve , have or will serve , Thank You"

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by strathnaver View Post
                  If the IJN had an offensive attitude for their SS it could have changed the path of the war . Given they had the Long Lance torpedo and SS with endurance capability they might have been able to intercept allied shipping.

                  As to the USN's problem in re the torpedos that seemed to fail a lot in the first few months of the Pacific war . The real problem was the magnetic exploder and the Torpedo station in Rhode Island (?)(I may be wrong here) had staff as well as naval HQ Washingtons staff that said we don't make mistakes. If they hadn't corrected this the US SS offensive would have been dismal . Fortunately their were COs who disregarded do not tamper orders . Was this bungling criminal ? I don't think that fits I do think it was stupid , short sighted and foolish .
                  You are absolutely correct about the source of the problem. Pre-war and early in the war, the Navy made their own torpedoes one at a time at the sub base in New London, CT and in -- I think -- Virginia and Rhode Island, rather than relying on private industry, as was the done with the vast majority of armaments produced in the west. The Navy bureacracy had a lot of time and pride tied up in their manufacture, and didn't like being told they put out a flawed product. The magnetic exploders were only one problem, but one of the first to be recognized by boat skippers. The torpedoes also ran deeper than set, and after the magnetic exploder was fixed, it was discovered the contact exploder was also defective. It was indeed thanks to boat skippers doing what they needed to do in spite of orders to the contrary that the problems were exposed, compensated for, and ultimately fixed. Edward Beach, a retired sub captain, in his classic novel "Run Silent, Run Deep" gives the best account of the whole torpedo problem -- kind of sad that a novel gives the most accurate account of this sorry story.
                  Last edited by Ajhall; 02 Jul 09, 15:12.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    I don't believe Japan had any hope of changing the outcome after the first bomb dropped on Pearl Harbor, except perhaps surrendering then and there. They simply didn't have the resources to fight the U.S. Not to mention the British, Austrailians, and a few other as well. Germany's U-boat offensive was designed to restrict shipping to an island nation in order to starve it out. Japan hadn't the slightest hope of accomplishing this against the United States which was largely self sufficient. It would have hastened the development of better weapons to combat the submarine threat, which in turn would have hastened the neutralization of that force, but changing the course of things? Not happening.

                    The torpedo issue was probably not criminal unless one could prove someone was knowingly producing bad torps. If they could prove that you might have a case. I don't know if "knowingly" or "with criminal negligence" has been proved regarding this but I'm not very knowledgeable on that. I know they failed often but not the manufacturing particulars or the political issues. Would better torps have made a difference? Yes, but only a tactical one in terms of time spent doing what was eventually done anyway. Avoided the atomic attacks? I really doubt it. If the complete defeat of the IJA, IJN, and IJAF didn't make them see sense I doubt a lack of merchant shipping a few months earlier would have.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by strathnaver View Post
                      If the IJN had an offensive attitude for their SS it could have changed the path of the war . Given they had the Long Lance torpedo and SS with endurance capability they might have been able to intercept allied shipping.
                      Perhaps. Note that two USN carriers were sunk an one put out of action in 1942 by Japanese submarine attack. If those were not sunk then they are available for critical battles. During the Solomons campaign the USN was down to one aircraft carrier at the critcal moment, and the Japanese still could not win. How much faster would they have been defeated were three more USN carriers available?

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        For the Allies, the entire Pacific theater was dependent on the flow of supplies from the US. Australia hung by a thread in 1942. The whole point of the Guadalcanal campaign was to address the threat an airfield in the Solomon's posed to the lines of communication back to the US. What I was wondering in the initial post was the impact on these vital lines of communication if the IJN had used their very good sub force to specifically and aggressively target Allied merchant shipping in the Pacific.

                        I think the Japanese leadership understood they couldn't "win" in the traditional sense of the Allies surrendering. Instead, they likely envisioned the neutralization of the US as a force in the Far East, allowing them to colonize and exploit their "Co-Prosperity Sphere" as a victory. They likely saw the US as wearying of war after a long struggle, and conceding Japanese control of Asia. That was probably not a realistic goal given the way they started the war at Pearl Harbor -- they greatly underestimated US anger at a pre-emptive strike. Had the IJN been able to get away from it's Mahanian doctrinal mind-set, and used the assets they had more effectively, i.e. used their sub force to consistently attack Allied communications, could they realistically have drawn things out to the point where the US would have grown fed up and thrown in the towel?

                        I think, ultimately, the answer is no. There was just too much anger, too much new shipping in the pipeline, to ever allow them to "win". However, I think targeting merchant shipping could have ended up costing us a lot more than it actually did cost to prevail. Keep in mind, the atomic bomb wouldn't be of much value without the means to get it to target. It's conceivable that it would have taken much longer to retake Guam, Tinian, Saipan, etc. had our communications and force growth been heavily targeted early on -- Australia could have been seriously threatened, something that that country took VERY seriously.

                        It's an interesting "what if" to ponder -- thankfully, things didn't turn of that way.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          I'd have to know something about how many Japanese submarines there were, their operational range, percent of torpedo hits vs cargo ships. John Ellis in his book 'Brute Force' has a analysis with lots of charts and numbers for the effectiveness of German submarines in the North Atlantic. At their peak in 1942 they were able to sink around 10% of the cargo destined for the UK. In other years the percent was under 5%. The high portion of 1942 had to do with Operation Drumbeat attacking unescourted cargo ships off the US coast in the winter/spring 1942.

                          Odds are the same mistake of not escourting cargo ships in convoys would be made in the Pacific in early 1942, so losses would initally be embarassing. Convoys have their own level of ineffciency so if convoy use is increased in the PTO then the cargo delivery is slowed.

                          Anyway if someone has accurate number for the Japanese submarines handy I could try for a comparison with the German subs in the North Atlantic and see if it gives a clue.

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